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Do you need hypoallergenic sunscreen? What to do if sunscreen irritates your skin

If you suffer from skin allergies, you likely worry about every product you apply to your skin. If you've had poor experiences using sunscreen, don’t worry: You’ll likely be able to find hypoallergenic versions that won't damage or irritate your skin. 

What is hypoallergenic sunscreen?

Hypoallergenic products can be a good choice if you suffer from allergies or have sensitive skin. In general, hypoallergenic means that the product contains very few known allergens. Allergens do not affect everyone in the same way. One person might have a mild reaction to an allergen while another may have a severe one or no reaction.

A hypoallergenic sunscreen should only contain ingredients that are less likely to cause irritation to the skin and have a low chance of causing an allergic reaction. As a consumer, the best way to tell if a sunscreen is hypoallergenic is to look at the ingredient list.

Know your body and what you have sensitivities to. If you are unsure if you have allergies, do a patch test before trying a new protective lotion or cream. Apply a small amount to a small area of your skin and wait about 48 hours. If there is no reaction, then you probably don't have an allergy to the ingredients and the product  should be safe for you to use. Conducting a patch test is a good practice before trying any new skin care product, regardless of your known allergies.

"Hypoallergenic" is not a regulated term, so there are no guarantees that a product with this label actually contains few known allergens. However, you can look for manufacturers that use the HRIPT or RIPT test to create a hypoallergenic sunscreen. The RIPT (Repeat Insult Patch Test)  is a clinical study where volunteers test cosmetics or topical products for allergens.

What are the signs of a sunscreen allergy?

If you have sensitive skin, you should test all products you plan to use ahead of time to ensure that you don't react badly to them. We believe applying sunscreen should be a luxurious experience. There should be no signs of tingling or pain where you apply it. It should feel similar to applying a gentle moisturizer.

Types of sunscreen allergies

Allergens are present in both natural and manmade materials. Common allergens include dust, pollen, insects, foods and pet dander. Many people also have allergic reactions to the ingredients in various beauty and skin care products, including sunscreen.

There are two types of sunscreen allergies. The first sunscreen allergy refers to a contact allergy. In general, most people who require hypoallergenic sunscreen have contact allergies. This type of allergic reaction occurs when you apply the product and your skin has a reaction to the chemicals within it. The other type of allergy is photoallergy. A photoallergic reaction occurs when chemicals react with the sun. With photoallergy, you will only experience a reaction when you’re exposed to sunlight while wearing the product. 

Signs of a sunscreen allergy

Some allergic reactions are mild and easy to overcome, while others—such as anaphylactic reactions—can be life-threatening.Remember that only about 1.6% of the world's population experiences anaphylaxis to something within their lifetime. For a sunscreen allergy, you are more likely to experience:

  • Itching
  • Red skin
  • Rashes
  • Blisters
  • Swelling

You may have raised bumps, bleeding, hives, pain, and scaling in more serious cases. If you experience a sunscreen allergy, clean the area as quickly as possible. Avoid going into the sun after an allergic reaction, as this can exacerbate skin irritation. Make sure to see your medical provider if you are showing signs of a serious sunscreen allergy.

It's important to remember that sunscreen allergies do not always appear right away. Some people use a beauty product for years and do not have any reaction. Allergies can develop suddenly.

Are there ways to protect yourself without sunscreen?

Since the sun can still cause serious damage, you shouldn't skip sun protection even if you have a sunscreen allergy — look for the right alternatives instead.

Use sun protective clothing

Sun-protective clothing has a UPF rating to help people pick garments that will prevent sunburn and keep them safe. The UPF rating tells you how well the fabric will protect you from the sun. In general, look for UPF50 on the label, and pick the right styles for you.

Sun-protective clothing can include casual wear, formal wear, and even swimwear. If you want to limit sunscreen while out swimming or on the beach, wearing long-sleeved swim tops with swim tights can protect a large portion of your body without needing sunscreen. Remember to protect your face with a hat and sunglasses, and stay in the shade as much as possible.

Find the right hypoallergenic sunscreen

Even those with the most sensitive skin do not have to avoid sunscreen altogether. Finding the right sunscreen requires you to listen to your body and avoid those chemicals that cause a reaction.

As a rule of thumb, you may find physical sunscreens better suited for your skin, as many are more likely to be formulated for sensitive skin. However, you should always make sure to patch-test the sunscreen before use. Not all physical sunscreens are made for sensitive skin, so follow our guidance above and look for test reports from companies citing their RIPT reports.

When searching for a sunscreen that will not cause irritation, you may also want to look for products that do not contain synthetic fragrances as some people are sensitive to these ingredients. Look for a sunscreen that nourishes your skin with vitamins, minerals, and moisture.

Trust us to help if you need hypoallergenic sunscreen

You deserve to feel amazing when you apply sunscreen. There’s no need to battle rashes, hives, and skin irritants to protect yourself from UVB and UVA rays. Hypoallergenic sunscreen can help those with sensitive skin continue to enjoy the sun without suffering from sun damage. At Clair Obscur, we understand how important the right skin care is. Visit us today to take a peek at our product line.